Senior Health: Having the Talk

By Jay Hibbard

CHICAGO, IL (November 29, 2016) — At 86, Janet’s mother considered herself independent. Still living in her home of 50 years, she was doing what 90 percent of Americans over the age of 65 say they plan to do according to AARP: live independently. Except that she wasn’t living independently at all, explained Janet. Janet and her siblings helped clean, do laundry, shop, and took turns taking their mom to her appointments—and they worried constantly. “We were making it possible for her to live on her own.”

As with many families, a health scare initiated the conversation with their mom about whether living at home was still her best option.

Although she was hesitant at first, Janet’s mom eventually moved to an assisted living community where she has made friends and is more active and independent than before. “I have to schedule around her busy life,” said Janet. “This was the right thing for Mom.”

Ideally parents decide to make the move to a continuing care retirement community (CCRC) while they are able to enjoy the lifestyle it affords—dining, social and lifelong learning opportunities, health and wellness activities, and peace of mind.

My parents were in their early 70s and enjoying the perks of living at an active adult community when they began asking themselves the “What if?” questions: What if my health needs change? What if one of us needs long-term care? Can we afford it? Who would take care of us? What if something happens to one us—how will the other cope?

They decided for themselves to move to a CCRC. But what if your parents aren’t asking, “What if?” As difficult as it may be, just as they had difficult conversations with you, it may be time for you to have the talk with them. Here are some tips to guide a thoughtful, productive conversation.

Talk early and talk often before a crisis
Start the dialogue early, before there is a healthcare crisis. By talking early and often, there will be a plan in place that everyone agrees on and that your parents are comfortable with. The talk may even help your parents decide on their own to move sooner rather than later. In all of my years in the senior-living industry, I’ve never heard anyone say they moved too soon to a CCRC.

Know the options
CCRCs answer those “What if?” questions by providing residents access to seamless professional care and support, including assisted living, catered living, skilled nursing, short- and long-term rehab, and memory support. Other options for senior living include rental apartments, living with family members, or staying in your home. The latter can be costly; use a cost-of-living calculator to help you get a clear view of the true costs of living at home.

Get rid of the stuff
The one thing I have seen that has held people back from making a decision to move to a CCRC is the “stuff” in their house. Start now rather than waiting for a move. Encourage your parents to simplify their lives. There are many local resources around the country that will even help do this for you.

Do the homework
Research the communities and choose two to three that you think would best suit your parents. Stop by unannounced to get an accurate picture of community life. Talk to residents and observe. Are they smiling? Are they active? Is there a variety of activities and programming? Is the food any good? Is the organization financially stable? Then bring your parents for a visit, or better yet, arrange to spend the night at the community to truly experience it for yourself.

Communicate, don’t dictate
Rather than telling your parents what you think they should do, express your concerns and ask for their thoughts. Try using open-ended questions and listen to their answers. You might pick up areas of concern for them. Are they afraid to move because they won’t know anyone? Are they afraid of losing their independence? Do they associate a stigma with moving to a community that offers assisted living? Take note and do more homework so you can help put your parents at ease.

A family affair
Families need to be unified so parents understand that everyone is looking out for their best interests. But that can be challenging. Sometimes it’s necessary to ask a third party like a family physician or attorney to help navigate the conversation.

Walk in your parents’ shoes
Your parents are considering leaving a home they may have lived in for decades, where they have raised a family and created memories that include you. They also recognize that this move may be their final move, even if they don’t share that with you. It may go without saying, but be thoughtful, kind, and patient.

What if your parents decide not to move?
Even the most well-intentioned efforts on their behalf may fall short. Your parents are adults who are free to make their own decisions. Unless there is a safety issue—and there may be if a parent is showing signs of dementia or other cognitive decline—you have to respect their decision to remain in their home. Be patient and continue to have open-ended conversations with them, offering examples of how life could be easier or independence prolonged by moving to a CCRC. One day they may surprise you by agreeing to visit a community. Make sure you’ve done your homework and have a couple of options available.

thumbnail_hibbard_jay_wkp3238 Jay Hibbard is senior vice president of sales, marketing, and communications for Covenant Retirement Communities, the sixth largest not-for-profit senior services provider in the U.S. He is one of a team of senior living professionals who writes bimonthly articles about seniors and health for the Covenant Companion online.




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